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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Call of Duty

After all the hype and anticipation; controversy surrounding questionable viral videos and shockingly violent leaked footage; lack of dedicated servers, uproar amongst PC gamers and multiple boycotts; it’s clear to see Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has a lot to live up to and answer for. This type of attention is normally reserved for a major Halo or Grand Theft Auto release, but after the success and praise heaped upon Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward have propelled themselves to the forefront of gaming. As a result, Modern Warfare 2 doesn’t try to shake up the formula; rather it ups the ante in the single player stakes, and makes subtle tweaks and improvements to one of the best multiplayer experiences in recent years. It’s a winning formula almost worthy of the hype.

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Set five years after the original, Modern Warfare 2 sees tension between the United States and Russia ever increasing. As before, play is split between multiple characters and units, with the elite Task Force 141 catching up with CoD4’s main protagonist Captain “Soap” MacTavish. Although while that games story was plausible – to a certain degree – Modern Warfare 2 goes all out and turns into a big action blockbuster, full of melodrama, twists, over-the-top scenarios and the predictable loose ends and plot holes. The vast majority of the story is told through the satellite imagery loadings screens and as a result it’s often too easy to miss important plot points. There’s no real impact behind the narrative when told like this so it’s hard to care what’s going on between missions. Towards the end of the game things pick up and a lot of the story is told in-game, so it’s a shame the rest of the storytelling didn’t follow suit.

Modern Warfare 2 adopts the bigger is better approach to sequels and it’s obvious from the off.”Of course once you’re in the thick of the action the story takes a back seat to the non-stop intensity of the gameplay. Modern Warfare 2 adopts the bigger is better approach to sequels and it’s obvious from the off. With multiple characters, Infinity Ward has the ability to shift the action between various locations; from the snowy, blizzard-ridden mountains of Kazakhstan, to the tight, claustrophobic slums of Rio de Janeiro, the American frontline in Afghanistan and even the historic streets of Washington D.C. itself – including its most famous landmarks. One minute you’ll be part of a two-man sniper team, silently infiltrating an enemy stronghold; the next you’ll be on top of a burger restaurant, holding off waves of enemy forces. The variety is certainly welcome; however, it does lack the cohesion of previous games in the series, especially when combined with the muddled story. Nonetheless, the stunning vistas and fantastic set pieces never let up. It’s difficult to say anything without spoiling too much, but you can expect plenty of ‘wow’ moments throughout the campaign. It’s almost as if Infinity Ward tried to re-create the famous nuclear blast from the first game every hour, or so. It can seem a bit much at times, but it fully encompasses that feeling of being in an action-packed Hollywood blockbuster that it’s hard to fault it.

Now, if you’re going to be facing this much adversity you’re going to need some new weaponry. Modern Warfare 2 introduces a plethora of new guns, attachments and devastating equipment. The guns pay more dividends in multiplayer, but the new attachments and equipment definitely add to the single player experience. Take, for example, the heartbeat monitor. When a blizzard sweeps through the Kazakhstani mountains this thing becomes your eyes, revealing nearby enemies as small dots, allowing you to avoid their paths and slip my unnoticed as they struggle with the harsh conditions. Even thermal vision changes the gameplay as enemies deploying smoke reveal themselves as easy targets. Of course, if you want something more explosive then look no further than the skies. CoD4 had the AC-130; Modern Warfare 2 introduces the Predator Missile. A user controlled strike from above that can take out multiple enemies at once, weakening their numbers and giving you an advantage.

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The abundance of new equipment thrown your way, along with the vast amount of set-pieces and locations is staggering at times. However, that lack of cohesion definitely hurts the single player experience. You’re never quite sure what you’re doing, and the way it bounces between locales and characters is quite difficult to follow at times. CoD4 felt like a more driven and focused campaign, whereas Modern Warfare 2 just throws a bunch of fantastic situations together into one big, loud mess and hopes it makes some kind of sense. It’s still an amazingly intense thrill ride, but it’s one of the weaker single player campaigns in the series; and at around five hours, it’s one of the shortest as well.

“The multiplayer has always been the main pull here, and Spec Ops is a welcome addition to a robust online component.”Of course, if you’re a veteran of the series the single player takes a back seat after one playthrough anyway. The multiplayer has always been the main pull here, and Spec Ops is a welcome addition to a robust online component. The majority of it can be played solo, but to get the most out of it you’ll need to draft in a friend over Xbox Live or split screen. Spec Ops uses some of the best environments from the single player campaign – and a few from CoD4 – and tasks you with earning stars to unlock higher levels. Over the 25 on offer there’s a vast array of objectives to complete. No one level is the same and the increasing difficulty provides a hefty and rewarding challenge; especially when you need to complete them on Veteran to earn the maximum three stars. They can range from anything to killing a set amount of enemies in an area, to racing down the mountains in a snowmobile or something more absurd like destroying every vehicle on the level in a set time. You can even climb back into the ghillie suit and make your way through the radiated grassland of Chernobyl.

However, the best levels are reserved for two-player only. One sees one player take control of the famous AC-130 gunship, while the other must make their way to checkpoints on the map. It’s fantastic fun helping your buddy out by raining death from above, and the view from the ground is stunning as, once dangerous, enemy soldiers are blown to pieces in a cloud of smoke. Treyarch’s Call of Duty: World at War may have introduced Nazi Zombies, but Spec Ops blows that out of the water with its mixture of gameplay styles, new and old environments and enjoyment whether it’s played solo or co-operatively – it will suck up the hours.

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Although the majority of your time will, of course, be consumed by the online multiplayer. If you’ve played CoD4 before then the basic gameplay fundamentals will feel extremely similar. It’s the subtle tweaks and improvements layered on top that build-on and improve the multiplayer tenfold. Even before playing the game there are so many different aspects to look over. Creating classes will be first on the agenda, with a multitude of attachments and perks ready for you to kit out exactly how you want. Fan favourites such as Stopping Power and Last Stand still remain, complemented by new perks including Scavenger, which lets you pick up ammo from dead enemies, and Scrambler which jams any enemy radar in your vicinity. You can even unlock Pro versions of each perk which improve their effectiveness; so something like Stopping Power will deal out more damage against enemy vehicles, thus helping the team take down helicopters or even the new Harrier jets. There are so many ways to outfit it for your play style. If you want to be stealthy you can virtually run around undetected with the right attachments and perks equipped. It’s fantastic. There’s just so much customisation here and that trend continues throughout.

Infinity Ward listened to fan criticism and dropped a few disliked perks including Martyrdom, which is now back in the shape of a Death Streak. If you die three times in a row you have the ability to use a Death Streak as a way to give you a minor advantage for one life. So, say you’re constantly being killed, you can use the Copycat streak and steal the weapon and perk layout of the last person who killed you. It’s a great way to help out struggling players and ease newcomers into the game. Of course, for the good players out there you’ll also be rewarded with Kill Streaks. When you go back and look at CoD4 it was rather limited with only a UAV, airstrike and helicopter. Modern Warfare 2 ups the ante once again with an abundance of new kill streaks – although you can still only take three into a game at a time. These Kill Streaks go all the way up to 25 kills, but if you want to be a bit more realistic you can unlock them at 5 kills, 7 kills, 9 kills and so on. Every 10 levels you can unlock a new one and then you have the chance to mix and match the three open slots. So you might take in a UAV, Predator Missile and Attack Helicopter, or a Care Package, Harrier Strike and the powerful AC-130. It’s fully customisable and you need strategy behind it; do you choose something that takes less kills to acquire that’s less powerful, or choose something like a Stealth Bomber, that can unleash devastating damage but requires a much higher streak? The risk and reward is all part of the game.

“It’s amazing Infinity Ward managed to maintain the balance that could have so easily killed the game on its feet.”Now, one concern may be that all this firepower will unbalance the game, but Infinity Ward have done a great job preventing that from happening. One team might be able to call in helicopters and AC-130s, but you now have the means to taking them down. Secondary weapons now stretch beyond the range of pistols so you can now equip shotguns, machine pistols and even rocket launchers. Getting pinned down by a Harrier jet? Lock-on and fire away with your Stinger missile and it’ll be barrelling to the ground in a ball of flame in no time. If your team is equipped correctly it’s generally quite easy to counter the other team’s big weaponry. Of course, if you’ve earned something on an 11 Kill Streak you deserve to do some big damage, and these vehicles are definitely harder to stop, often deploying flares to push missiles off course. The other team might complain but that’s not unbalanced; they just earned the right by playing that well. When you consider the amount of high-damage Kill Streaks on offer, it’s amazing Infinity Ward managed to maintain the balance that could have so easily killed the game on its feet.

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Visually Modern Warfare 2 isn’t a huge step up from CoD4. The textures and character models are obvious improvements, but it’s the wealth of effects that really stand out. Snow and rain looks brilliant, and the carnage consistently portrayed is stunning with some amazing explosion and particle effects. The steady framerate is one particular highlight, especially considering the amount of action going on at any one time. And the high production values carry over to the sound design. Legendary composer Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight, Gladiator, The Lion King) provides the majority of the score and his ability is evident, complementing the action and downtime perfectly.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is one of those rare breeds to actually live up to the hype. The single player, albeit disappointing, is still an excellent thrill ride and precursor to the main pull: the multiplayer. CoD4 cemented its place as one of the best online shooters going and Modern Warfare 2 builds on it, adding a plethora of new features that constantly reward and amaze. Infinity Ward has managed to improve on the multiplayer without changing the fundamentals that made it so great in the first place. If you don’t have Xbox Live it’s not worth the inflated price tag since the short single player isn’t worth it, but Spec Ops and the multiplayer are so superb that it’s hard not to call Modern Warfare 2 one of the games of this generation.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

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